A report on operations of the construction industry in Malawi has revealed about 20 challenges among them that 55.6 percent of materials used in constructing structures are substandard.
The report also shows that there is huge scarcity of experienced personnel, corruption in the sector is entrenched and political interference in awarding contracts is prevalent.
The challenges are exacerbated by lack of coordination between regulators and National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) in enforcing regulations, but also lack of support from NCIC in regulating private or individual clients, the report notes.
Apart from these challenges, it also observes lack of ethical commitment from contractors and consultants towards the industry, saying some contractors are profit-oriented, which is thwarting efforts for growth and professionalism.
The details are contained in a Needs Assessment Report which the NCIC commissioned aimed at establishing challenges and research gaps in the construction sector in Malawi.
Presenting the report to players in the industry based in the Northern region yesterday, lead researcher Engineer Patsani Kumambala said substandard materials that have flooded the market are exacerbating challenges on quality and durability of built facilities.
He said: “The industry is open to the general public without considering qualification such that too many substandard or unskilled construction contractors have registered with NCIC, compounding the problem of quality and durability of built facilities.”
Kumambala, from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources Engineering Department, also measured political interference in the award of contracts from government entities which he found at 12.5 percent while general corruption is at 23.6 percent.
He said: “Private or individual investors do not follow normal routes when embarking on construction activities and reference is to use unlicenced firms.
“There is also local firm’s lack of access to credit facilities and this is worsened by the fact that the industry is open to international competitors who use economies of scale to outcompete local firms.”
According to the report, government entities and non-governmental organisations rate substandard construction materials as the number one challenge in the industry while contractors rate lack of access to credit facilities as the main challenge.
On growth of the industry, the report has observed that lack of enforcement of policy and regulation, poor coordination of oversight institution and lack of social responsibility from all players in the industry remain a threat to any progress.
These aspects are similar to the challenges the industry is facing in delivery of construction projects.
It recommends that it is necessary to address the challenges and weaknesses through research to promote growth of the industry.
In an interview after the presentations Kumambala said the country needs to produce local building materials that are durable, unlike in the current setup where most goods are imported and expensive.
“There is need to look at the possibility of developing guidelines on standardisation and utilisation of locally available construction materials vis-à-vis imported ones, but also long-term strategies on promotions of the use of indigenous construction materials and technologies,” he said.
Malawi Building Contractors and Allied Trade Association chairperson Wilky Mhango blamed the influx of substandard goods on failure by enforcement institutions like Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) in carrying out their mandate.
He said: “We don’t manufacture our own things and the major reason is that there is no control. These materials come through the borders and we have institutions like MBS in such borders, but anybody brings in anything, so long they pay taxes, and eventually such materials flood the market.”
Mhango said because no one is controlling the standards, if one wants to build a house, they do not know which materials are allowed; hence, they go for cheaper ones.
“We have a new government that says it wants to fight corruption, but most of these people think they have to benefit by getting contracts through the backdoor. We hope these things will change,” he said.
On her part, NCIC chief executive officer Linda Phiri admitted challenges in regulating the industry, saying the NCIC research agenda was for them to have a coordinated approach and documented needs that can help them find solutions.
“One of the challenges is NCIC’s lack of regulatory mandate. We have the mandate but right now, we can only directly control contractors and consultants which are our registered members.
“We started the process of reviewing the NCIC Act, with the aim of repealing it and creating a regulatory authority. The draft Bill is in final stages [and] will be submitted to the Cabinet Committee before the November meeting of Parliament,” she said.
Phiri hoped that the regulatory authority will address the challenges being faced as highlighted in the report.
Recently during the opening of the 38th Malawi Institute of Architects (MIA) Annual General Meeting (AGM), President Lazarus Chakwera said corruption in the construction industry is affecting the country’s development as it results in substandard infrastructure.
The NCIC research agenda follows growing concerns over the overreliance on imported materials in the country and the unsustainable use of the natural resources for construction purposes.